We are less than a month from the Iowa Caucuses. As we wind the clock down I think it is important to note that the 2012 campaign season might present the most damning indictment yet of the ineptness of political reporting about the Republican campaign season.
Since November of 2010, political reporters in this nation have been telling us Mitt Romney would be the nominee. And while I completely agree and have said I expect it, the political reporters in this nation have routinely, and I am beginning to think intentionally, failed to report on what I think is and remains the biggest story this campaign season.
The man who should be the front runner and who should be walking away with the nomination has had since March of 2008 to lock down his lead as the Republican nominee and less than one month from the start of Campaign 2012, 80% of Republican voters want nothing to do with him and a third would rather go to the fight with a retread from the Clinton era than Mitt Romney.
For months and months the media establishment in Washington and New York has avoided this story even though since August of 2012 Mitt Romney has never been the front runner for more than a few days between the implosions and rises of the various alternatives to him.
Only now the media is beginning to tell the story and even now the media focus is more on what Mitt Romney needs to do than what Mitt Romney did wrong. Even more humorously, when the media does go for "what went wrong," they cannot help themselves but fixate on Mormonism when poll after poll shows Mitt Romney's faith will be more a weight on him with independent voters than Republican primary voters.
There is another story too as we get to the Horserace this week. It is on the failure of the professional political class in Washington, D.C. The professional political class has failed Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and the list goes on. Sure, when God serves up a lemon of a candidate, there is only so much a consultant can do. But very few have successfully made lemonade with any of the candidates. Even with Gingrich, his rise has more to do with his debate performances than his consultants.
These two stories — the failure of the political press to get the stories right and the failure of the political consultant class to get the candidates right — are not written about enough. And both impact the horserace for 2012. And the muddied stories of both these problems may interweave directly to a brokered convention. I think it is time to move beyond wishful thinking and take seriously the idea of having a brokered convention with someone other than the current crop of candidates becoming the nominee. And that, for the first time, adds a new candidate to this week's horserace, Mr. None of the Above.
Michele Bachmann's campaign has a shot at a bounce in Iowa. But I think it will be more a dead cat bounce. Her campaign is over. She does not have the funds to carry on nor does she have the message to carry on. Her campaign is overshadowed. While the people of Iowa love her and could give her a life line, it would amount more to not pulling the plug than going on and letting the campaign die gracefully.
For all intents and purposes Newt Gingrich is the nominee. His lead in the early states and late states is so dominant that he could run the boards. And yet no one is prepared to call him the nominee and not just because the voting hasn't started. The voters backing Newt and every other candidate out there are still rather lukewarm to them all. Support is shallow.
Newt now has to withstand four weeks of nonstop attacks from the other candidates and the press. We'll hear about the women, we'll hear about the back room deals, and we'll hear about his betrayal of conservatives.
Anyone who reads Tom Coburn's book Breach of Trust will probably decide Newt can't be there guy. What keeps this interesting is that if Newt isn't their guy, a lot of others not named Romney could be.
The most remarkable thing about me saying nice things about Jon Huntsman has been the speed with which the political press has seized on those words. More so than any other candidate in America for any office, if I write that I'm reconsidering Jon Huntsman, the media flies into an orgasmic fit of self-congratulations and races to pronounce Jon Huntsman recovered and rising.
I see it as another sign of just how manufactured Jon Huntsman's campaign is by the media. In truth, right now Jon Huntsman is not even a margin of error within the margin of errors of most polls.
This says little about the man himself other than an entire class could be given on how badly served Huntsman has been by his advisors who he allows to continue advising him. Only now is he beginning to make the shift to let conservatives know he really is one of them.
I have concluded I was too hasty in my judgment of Jon Huntsman. I have concluded that not only is his record better than MItt Romney's, I actually would probably vote for him before I would vote for Mitt Romney. But I think Jon Huntsman, like Herman Cain, has shown poor judgment by keeping a staff that started off his campaign so badly and kept him a margin of error outside the margin of error.
But I'm pretty sure the media will ignore all that and instead focus on the fact that I, a guy who said I'd never vote for Huntsman, am now saying I'd probably vote for him over Romney.
Ron Paul will not be the nominee. But he just might take out Newt Gingrich. He might also take out Mitt Romney. And I'm really thinking the longer Ron Paul stays in, the more useful his constancy is to getting to a brokered convention.
The longest serving Governor of Texas is about out of time. His campaign is in disarray. There is a shadow campaign within the campaign, seemingly no strong pro-active communications plan at the communications level (I'm not talking ads, I'm talking day to day messaging and narrative construction), and infighting. It seems that while the Governor is active and fully engaged, the campaign staff is divided. And we all know just how well divided houses do.
There is a path to victory for Rick Perry, but it involves events all outside his control right now. I like the guy. I have many friends working on his staff. I hope they are all deeply embarrassed or very, very sad at how this thing fell apart.
The one saving grace for Rick Perry and the one thing that might turn it around for him is that few people now think he can win, so it frees him up to actually campaign to win. Perry can still do this. It just depends on Romney, Gingrich, and Paul destroying each other while Perry rebuilds and reboots behind the scenes with minimal gaffes and a strong message on jobs.
One thing he has working for him? A big ground staff in Iowa. Making the top three there buys him a life line into South Carolina.
Mitt Romney has had since 2008 to sew this up. He has not. It is a failure of his political opportunism and of his political staff. Most interesting to me, in talking to a lot of conservatives who opposed Romney in 2008, many of them tell the same story this go round. Instead of trying to get them on board, the Romney campaign tried to marginalize them. Instead of trying to repair bridges, the Romney campaign has sought to burn them down. There is a lot of bad blood in the conservative movement now for Romney and his staff. What should have been an easy win for him will now, at best, be a bloodbath on the way to the nomination with a lot of time and money spent.
If you want a good idea of just how badly Mitt Romney has been served by his political consultants, consider this transcript showing Mitt Romney is actually clueless about his waiver proposal and it actually won't even work.
PHILIP KLEIN: You’ve said that on day one of your presidency, you would grant Obamacare waivers to all 50 states, as you pursue full repeal. But under the language of the health care law, waivers are subject to a number of restrictions, and wouldn’t apply until the year 2017. So what immediate and specific relief would your executive order provide for individuals and businesses, assuming it’s issued on January 20, 2013?
ROMNEY: Well, I will certainly pursue repeal, and that’s something which will occur if we have a Republican House and a Republican Senate, my guess is it could be done pretty close to day one. If that’s not the case, and I have to go through the waiver process, we will do our best.
Our lawyers think that providing a state a waiver that we will be able to conform with the law and that the state would be able to opt out of the system, but if a lawsuit ensues, and it takes months to sort it out, well during that time hopefully we will have the bill repealed. I think people recognize that if I’m elected President of the United States, that we are not going to have Obamacare with its full panoply of benefits and costs. The American people don’t want it. I don’t want it. And we’ll repeal it. And if the waiver process is able to successfully stop it in its tracks, as we think it will, great. It doesn’t stop everything of course. Some elements go on. The tax being collected and so forth, that you can’t get out of that by waiver – it requires the ultimate repeal.
KLEIN: But what do your lawyers think as to why these waivers could take place, because I have the law here, and it says that it applies on January 1, 2017 – under the “waiver for state innovation.”
ROMNEY: When you say “it” -- “it applies”?
KLEIN: The “waiver for state innovation” -- under section 1332.
ROMNEY: The waiver for state innovation?
KLEIN: Yes, that’s the waiver that I believe that you’re talking about when you talk about state waivers. That’s what your campaign has said.
ROMNEY: Oh, they say it’s that in particular?
ROMNEY: Then I’d have to have Ben Ginsberg, our lawyer, sit down. If you really want to go into that and tell you what -- if that’s important to you, we’ll have Ben Ginsberg give you a call and talk about what provision of the law we would seek to employ.
I keep being told not to underestimate Rick Santorum in Iowa. He could still surprise us, but he won't be the nominee.
None of the above
For the first time I am giving serious though to none of the above. I am moving beyond wishful thinking to actually thinking we might need a brokered convention. The candidates in this race are good people, but none of them are proving to be of a caliber of conservative leader we should be putting on the field to take on the socialist in the White House.
The odds of a brokered convention are slim to none now. But I think we might need to have a conversation about it. The soft support so many primary voters have for their candidates and the number of undecided voters out there suggests there is room for a better person.